III. What is the “Teaching of the Bible” with regard to sexual ethics?
Ok. We have, in previous posts, discussed Section I and II in Jack Crabtree’s lengthy handout.
The handout can be found here, along with a link to audio recordings of his lectures.
In Section I, Jack explained to us that Moderns won’t think his view of sexuality is cool. He also displayed, I thought, a marked lack of familiarity with the Modern Mindset. And he attributed an attitude he does not approve of (a ban on interracial marriage), which is clearly expressed in a text he considers authoritative (Ezra), to a source other than the authoritative text (Book of Tobit/ first century Judaism- which I don’t think are actually even the same thing). Implying that said ban was a deviation from, rather than a feature of, Biblical Sexual Ethics.
Which it actually is.
Making his maneuver fairly dishonest.
And he explains what kind of person his view of sexuality will appeal to and says they should all form a cult together. Sorry- ‘underculture’. Which no one will ever, ever, ever join just because they want to be part of a club. No siree.
In Section II, Mr. Crabtree explained about the Bible being an authority for Jesus Followers. The closest he got to telling us what a Jesus follower is that they are people who consider the Bible the highest authority (so, presumably all non-Protestants are out). Except in the case of Science. Science, it appears, has authority alongside the Bible.
Let’s hope they never conflict, right?
Anyway, Section IV is going to be really interesting, because that’s where he starts talking about sex. In the meantime, in Section III, Mr. Crabtree explains how he derives his view of the sexuality from the Bible- his method, in other words. And that’s pretty interesting too.
A. To understand what the Bible “teaches” on sexual ethics, one must understand the entire biblical worldview and the ramifications of that worldview for sexual ethics.
If my memory serves (which it may not), in the Middle Ages, the people of Europe had the idea that the collapsed Greco-Roman civilization previous to them was more learned than they were, and that the beliefs of the Greco-Romans were pretty nearly true. They therefore took all of the remnants and fragments of Greco-Roman literature that they still had, derived from them the entire Greco-Roman worldview, then spent a lot of time philosophizing about the Greco-Roman worldview’s ramifications.
The trouble turns out to be that, while the Greco Roman civilization had built up a higher concentration of learnedness than the Medieval Europeans, they also had, in their learnedness, many different theories about how the universe worked- some of which were mutually exclusive.
The Medieval Europeans had created a theory of the world in which all of the fragments they had access too appeared as compatible parts of a coherent system- even the bits which had, once upon a time, been diametrically opposed. This marvel of interpretive ingenuity (the product, if not the process) is described in CS Lewis’ book The Discarded Image. It is probably my favorite book by that author, and is highly readably.
It was later discovered was that this synthetic monster did not match either reality or really even the views of the Greco Romans- a fact which allowed ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers to refer to the Middle Ages as ‘The Dark Age’ and preen themselves on being smarter than people who were essentially trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, but with Huns.
In the later portion of the Christian Bible, Jesus (ethical teacher extraordinaire and deity of the Christian religion) claims that The Law and the Prophets (the then existent portion of the Christian Bible- sometimes referred to as the Jewish Bible) can be summed up in the phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12) (Rabbi Hillel said more or less the same thing, shortly before Jesus’ time)
In the Law and the Prophets, at one point God is said to have commanded his followers to kill all the men in certain cities and treat the women and children as plunder to be used- and in certain other cities to simply kill everything- old or young, animal or human (Deuteronomy 20:10-18). These cities are said to have sinned such that they deserved to be massacred and have their land given away as a present to some other group.
The trouble, for me, is the children.
They cannot in any meaningful sense have participated in whatever crimes those cities committed.
If I were guilty of some crime that deserved death, I would not want my innocent children to be executed along with me. If I were guilty of some crime and my children were innocent, I would certainly not want them to be treated as plunder by an army that is authorized to use prisoners as slave-wives (Deut 21:10-14).
God- said to be the source of the moral order of the universe- ordered his followers to treat others in a way that no one wants to be treated.
The Law and the Prophets cannot be summed up the way Jesus says they can.
Unless, of course, the Law and the Prophets are secretly a polemic against God, but they say that they aren’t and I’m not doing conspiracy theories in this post.
The Christian Bible seem to me to be written from at least two different ethical worldviews, diametrically opposed to each other. Possibly more. Mr. Crabtree clearly believes that the Bible is learned and (with the exception of Ezra?) more or less true. What Mr. Crabtree has not told us is why he thinks it is permissible to derive from the Bible a single ‘entire’ worldview.
1. I will not know what the Bible “teaches” simply by discovering what I take to be a decisive verse. I know what the Bible teaches only when I understand the entire, coherent worldview of the Bible
If we had some reason to believe that the Bible presents a single coherent worldview, this, I suppose, would be fair enough. Only the sum of the whole can explain the parts, and so forth.
So, all we have to do is come up with The Correct View of Life, the Universe and Everything from a book that has spawned two thousand years worth of arguments, heresies, failed theologies, and multiple contradictory ‘successful’ theologies. We can then derive our sexual ethics from that!
Sounds easy, right?
Furthermore, one finds out what the sum of the parts is by examining the parts and adding them together. If Mr. Crabtree is taking this Sexual Ethics thing seriously, I would expect at least to hear a list of relevant passages, what each one is talking about, and then hear how the whole can be derived from them. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Furthermore, once you have found out the sum of the whole (the total worldview that has created and informed all of the particular passages) you could at least expect that all of the relevant verses would be explicable in terms of that total worldview. There wouldn’t be any individual verse that CONTRADICTED the total world view, right? Because then the theory you had derived from them would be proved incorrect.
None of this has to be a problem.
Given the fact that Mr. Crabtree essentially discarded a Biblical passage (Ezra) that expresses an attitude he condemns, then blame shifted, accusing another group in a different era of history of producing the idea.
And is now distancing himself from “decisive verses”.
I have a bad feeling about this.
2. To make moral judgments consistent with what the Bible teaches, my moral judgments with regard to sexual behavior must be made on the basis of the theory of human sexuality that is taught in and/or assumed by what the Bible asserts.
At first blush I thought he was just repeating what he had said in the first two points, but he is emphasizing here that one’s specific moral judgments come from the theory, not from applying specific verses directly to specific situations. There is an intermediary. That intermediary, the theory, is the thing we operate from.
I like to work from an understanding of things, not a list of rules, so I guess I’m down with that. If it could be proved that the Bible has a single consistent theory of ethics, that is.
But it hasn’t.
And there is the Book of Tobit/Ezra still hanging over our heads.
I have a bad feeling about this.
a) The Bible teaches more on sexuality than what can be found in the explicit assertions of individual verses.
Oh god. He’s not just going to discard passages that say things he doesn’t like. He’s going to “find” things that it doesn’t say.
Why cloud your own opinion with a bunch of textual references, Mr. Crabtree?
(1) I cannot find a “verse” that teaches that adult-child sex is a sin. Yet, in the context of a biblical theory of sexuality and sexual ethics, adult-child sex would clearly be considered evil from the perspective of the Bible, even though there is no “verse” that says so.
Well. The Bible also doesn’t have a verse (that I recall) that says when childhood ends.
Our legal definition of adulthood is 18 years old. The physical and hormonal changes that begin in children during puberty, between 8-12 years old, don’t really level off before then. Also, before that age, young people have too little experience of the world and themselves. They haven’t had the experience necessary to learn what physical desire means and doesn’t mean, what emotional and romantic attachment is and they don’t have the life experience to know a good person from a seducer. They have no defenses.
Thus, we treat adult/child sexual contact as a crime. Because, even if it’s consensual, one of the involved parties isn’t yet developed enough to give informed consent.
Do you like charts? Here’s an overview of human development.
The Jewish coming-of-age ritual takes place at about age 13. I don’t believe they currently use this as a legal age of adulthood.
In the the list of unlawful sexual relations given in Leviticus 18, the unlawful relations are given in terms of social roles, familial relationships and rituals.
Don’t sleep with your father’s wife (assumption of polygamy/concubinage), don’t sleep with your half-sister, don’t sleep with the children of your children (assuming that your children are old enough to have children and are still called children suggests to me that the grandchildren here referred to as children are not necessarily young. it means they have that role in relation to you- no matter what their age). Don’t sleep with a woman during her period. Etc.
In 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34 we learn that Josiah was eight years old when he became king in Jerusalem.
In 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22, Joash was seven.
Why? There is no possible way that either one could have been ready to govern a nation.
Despite the fact that they were otherwise and in every other way too young, these two children were made kings because social roles, familial relationships and ritual demanded it.
God spent practically the entire Book of Exodus instructing the Jews in detail about what kind of tassels he wanted them to put on the curtains of the Tabernacle.
And yet, he didn’t bother to address adult/child sexual relationships even once.
Why aren’t there any verses that address adult/child sexual relationships?
Most sermons I’ve ever heard on the subject hypothesize that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was about 14 when the whole pregnancy incident happened, due to this being “the right age” for her to be engaged to Joseph.
So, according to our standards of informed consent (potentially applicable to the free existential choice Mr. Crabtree is so fond of), Mary was to young to agree to sexual activity with another human, let alone consent to bear and give birth to the Son of God.
God is a pedophile.
(2) There is no “verse” that tells me it is perverse to have an erotic attachment to my automobile. That does not mean that the Bible would consider it morally acceptable.
Uh. Actually, there is. Given that there is no human female or animal involved, I’m guessing this would probably fall under the category of nocturnal emissions- Deuteronomy 23:9-11, Leviticus 15:16-17. Ejaculating right out into nothing and not into a vagina/womb. It’s not forbidden, but you aren’t allowed to participate in any ritual activities the next day.
The thing that’s weird about this fetish (and at some point in the hazy days and sleepless nights I looked this up, but I’m not going to again for a link) (DO IT YOURSELF) is not the fact that some guys do themselves on their cars, but that they describe it in romantic terms. For that I’d say, maybe too much Thomas the Tank Engine as children?
But nowhere in all the rules did I noticed the Bible mentioning anything about romantic attachments- one way or the other. The closest thing I can think of is the story of Jacob and Rachel, Genesis 29. The romantic attachment in that story was more or less incidental to the dynamics of marriage and the story itself except to explain why Laban could charge such a high price for his daughter and get away with so many shenanigans.
Oh gosh. David and Michal! 1 Samuel 18. Same deal, although there’s are a lot more being dealt with in this passage than just marriage. The romantic attachment is there to explain why Saul can make his prospective son-in-law David risk his life collecting so many… Philistine… foreskins… Presumably, as a willing sexual partner, Michal is more desirable and therefore Saul can make David pay for her as part of his scheme to get David killed.
And then there’s the Song of Solomon. The great erotic poem of the Bible, written by David’s son Solomon. Solomon, of the 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon who collected women like some men collect. Well. Cars.
No one ever said that Rachel was in love with Jacob. Given that her opinion didn’t count, how exactly was this different from doing a car that you have a crush on?
(3) If it were the case that no “verse” tells me it is wrong for “marriage” to occur between two human beings of the same sex, would that fact entail that the Bible would consider same-sex marriage morally unobjectionable? The answer is “no.”
He’s saying, again, that you can derive from the theory things that aren’t explicitly stated.
Sort of like how you can derive from Jesus saying ‘treat others the way you wish to be treated’ the theory that you shouldn’t commit genocide. Then, even though God never commanded anyone NOT to commit genocide, you can know that he would never ever ever command anyone to do something so utterly morally reprehensible!
Oh shoot! That’s just what I wanted God to be like!
b) What the Bible asserts in individual verses must be understood in the light of
the Bible’s theory of marriage and sexuality, and in the light of its entire
You can beat a dead horse to water but you can’t make it have a single consistent theory of sexuality and marriage.
Don’t look a gift horse in the Ethics. It might be as old as the Bronze Age.
He’s saying what I said about the parts having to be explicable by the whole- the worldview/theory you construct from them. Except he’s leaving out the part where they also have to not contradict the whole or the whole is invalid.
We’ll see why in a minute.
(1) “Love your neighbor” clearly cannot be construed to mean “have sex
with your neighbor” (as the followers of Moses David taught).
Wow. Something we agree on. Yes, that is an obviously stupid reading of that passage.
I have no idea who Moses David was or what his followers taught. I don’t care. I’ll assume he was some hippy Mr. Crabtree knew back in his longhair days. Moving on.
(2) To construe the handful of relevant verses as suggesting that Jesus
taught that divorce is NEVER morally permissible is to ignore several
facets about the biblical worldview.
Remember back in A.1) when I said that you could derive a theory from a set of facts/verses, and use them as an interpretive framework, but none of the facts/verses could contradict the theory, or the theory would be wrong?
And then in A. 2) b) he said more or less the same thing, but left out the part about how, if facts/ verses contradicted the theory, the theory was wrong?
The ‘handful of relevant verses’ constitute EVERY SINGLE TIME Jesus gave instructions about divorce.
“To construe... said verses… as suggesting Jesus taught divorce is never morally permissible…” is putting rather a fine point on it.
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matt 5:32
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. Matt 19:9
He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:11-12
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Luke 16:18
Jesus explicitly stated, every time he addressed the issue, that divorce is never morally permissible except in the case of adultery.
What grounds does Mr. Crabtree have for saying that we misconstrue Jesus when we say Jesus believed what Jesus explicitly stated he believed?
Deuteronomy 24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Divorce was a normal transaction in the Old Testament. There were certain restrictions on it, but they were nowhere as severe as Jesus’.
The ‘indecent something’ the man discovers about the woman?
Leviticus 20:10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
It wasn’t adultery.
Its as if Jesus and the writers of the Tanakh were working from two completely different views on the matter. They absolutely contradict one another.
Interestingly enough, Jesus himself knew of and dealt with this discrepancy.
Mark 10: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
Moses permitted this in cases other than divorce. And yet Jesus has said that he agrees with the Law of Moses- Matt 5:17-20. What’s a Jesus to do?
Mark 10:5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus explains that there IS a single coherent ethic that informs both his teaching on divorce AND the Old Testament’s teaching. However, he says, the Jews back in the day weren’t ready to drink God’s ethic straight. So God watered it down for them and allowed them to divorce for reasons other than adultery.
Divorce for reasons other than adultery- the Moses’ law- is a corruption of God’s ethic.
But according to Mr. Crabtree, Jesus cannot possibly mean what he said, because the Tanakh and the theory Mr. Crabtree has constructed, must be taken into consideration as well. Jesus’ teaching must be explained in their light.
Mr. Crabtree agrees with Jesus in saying that Jesus’ teaching and the Tanakh’s are two parts of a single self contained systems of ethics. Like Jesus, he MUST say that one of the two doesn’t really mean what they are saying.
And, of the two, he chose to discard Jesus.
Given the depth of incompatibility some couples display and the unnecessary suffering that divorce can prevent, I can’t say that choice is wrong.
Given his statements about the Bible and being a Jesus Follower, in his own system, he totally is.
(3) Some seek to defend the legality of “gay marriage” on the grounds that
to deny the legal possibility of marriage to gay people is to violate the
Bible’s supreme ethical principle—love for our neighbor. This argument
disregards several facets of the biblical worldview.
And now he’s accusing other people of discarding things. Oh Joy. The Ocean.
The supreme ethical principle- love for our neighbor- when stated in full is, love your neighbor as you love yourself.
It was stated by Jesus (Mark 12, Luke 10 among others), his disciples (Paul- Romans 13- and James- James 2- come to mind) and some of the Old Testament writers(Leviticus 19:18) Given that they were also all gung-ho about killing the neighboring Canaanite tribes, possibly they meant it to be limited to the Jews. With the more cosmopolitan streams of Judaism it was applied to all humanity, as it was in the more cosmopolitan strains of Christianity as well. Jesus gave an example of it with his parable of the good Samaritan.
The parable implies that ‘your neighbor’ is anyone, of any race, even if they are of a different religion, even if their religion is a corrupt version of your religion and they leave out all the things you have labeled as purity, truth and relationship to God.
It is the reason I feel bad about treating Mr. Crabtree’s lecture with such sarcasm.
It can also be restated in a form we have previously touched on- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And it is fairly easy to see how the same dynamic informs both renderings.
Pretend you are that other person. Thus, their life and experience of life are just as valuable as your own. And then, just as you don’t like it when people do stuff that harms you, don’t do stuff that harms them. Just as you like it when people do stuff that helps you, do stuff that helps other people.
How does this apply to the controversy of gay marriage?
Well- what does Mr. Crabtree want for himself? He’s already told us.
A subculture utilizes social and cultural pressure to effect conformity. The
follower of Jesus does so out of free, existential obedience. The Bible never
advocates cultural conformity for its own sake, where no free, existential
choice is involved.
He wants to make his own choices- freely and out of the core of his existence. He wants to be able to follow his chosen religion and (presumably) its sexual ethics, not because society or his culture has forced him to. Perhaps by – and who’s ever heard of such a ridiculous thing!- making the normal manifestations and sexual practices of his chosen religion illegal.
But apparently this is too drastic for him to grant anyone else.
His life matters. Other people’s don’t. According to him.
(a) This argument assumes that relationship is the supreme principle in
life, as well as in sexuality. Truth, moral purity, one’s relationship to
God, and, hence, sexual purity—these must never be allowed to take
precedence over authentic, loving relationship (as a modern would
Uh. No, it doesn’t. It assumes that truth, moral purity, and relationship to God are matters of intense and prolonged debate, and that people should be allowed to make up their own minds about said matters and then pursue those without having to superficially conform to the opinions of others.
Assuming that sex is more important than truth, moral purity and God sounds like something a hippy would say. Except I suspect that a hippy would say that sex WAS truth, moral purity and God. So maybe is sounds like the thing a person who didn’t like hippies would say that a hippy said.
Or maybe we shouldn’t pull opinions out of our asses and randomly assign them to people. As Mr. Crabtree has done here.
(b) Does love for my neighbor require that I want my neighbor to have
and do whatever he wants to have and do? Clearly not.
What the hell. Why doesn’t it?
I’ll assume (randomly)(out of my ass) that the argument here continues; but what if my neighbor wants to have and do things that hurt me?
Like- blowing themselves up in a crowded mall so they can die a martyr and be sure of getting into heaven? Or- making illegal all expressions of sexuality other than their own because God said butt-sex is icky? Or massacring entire nation/races because God said he likes you better and you get to have all their stuff now?
What if what one person wants involves another person, but the other person doesn’t want it?
Well. This is why, to limit the limitless freedom that ‘loving your neighbor as you love yourself’ bestows upon us all, and to resolve the conflict between having not One, but Many persons (aka moral agents) in existence, we have introduced the concept of consent.
Informed Consent, no less.
One person can only do what they want to another person if the other person understands and wants it as well.
That is my answer. I don’t know if that was actually Mr. Crabtree’s question, since the matter was so ‘clear’ to him that he didn’t give it a bullet point of its own.
(i) However, that is exactly what we unthinkingly assume in the
context of debates like “gay marriage.”
Actually, some of us don’t assume it but come to this conclusion by reasonable processes that you are ignoring.
(c) The above argument “begs the question.” It assumes the very point
at issue: that there is nothing morally objectionable about
homosexuality as such.
No, it doesn’t. It assumes that different persons come to different understandings of what morality is. It also assumes that while everyone thinks that they’re right and wants to do what they think is right, no one has agreed on the details since pretty much the beginning of time.
(d) To love my neighbor is to promote my neighbor’s well-being. Don’t
I have to know what is truly good for my neighbor in order to love
him? Isn’t the entire scope of the Bible’s teaching relevant to
answering that question?
And here I thought that conservatives don’t like the welfare-nanny state.
To love my neighbor is to promote my neighbor’s well-being.
I don’t know. But to love your neighbor as you love yourself is to allow them to tell you what their well being looks like to them, and respect that.
No one ever said you could just love your neighbor.
To simply assume that you know what’s good for them and they don’t, especially when one has displayed as impressive an ignorance of your neighbor as Mr. Crabtree has in this lecture, is to infantilize everyone but yourself and to anoint yourself the Supreme Nanny of the Whole World.
Except even your views grow and change, so you’re not qualified.
Don’t I have to know what is truly good for my neighbor in order to love
Having done your research, knowing what their various choices they face, familiarizing yourself with the processes by which they make decisions, their history, motivations, hopes, fears, etc, make you a better resource for them as they make their decisions. That is perhaps more loving than just letting them rot in your corner while you rot in yours.
But no. You don’t have to know.
Isn’t the entire scope of the Bible’s teaching relevant to answering that question?
uh… in the general sense that, isn’t the history of everything ultimately related to every question? sure it is.
But to be particularly and specifically relevant, we would have to have proven that the Bible had a single ethic that informed its entire scope.
And we haven’t.
And, in fact, what we have seen has indicated quite the opposite.
Once upon a time, the Bible was considered a guide for Astronomy. The relevant verses and the theory derived from them were studied in detail. They caused much consternation when a man named Galileo began to popularize a theory that went against the theory that had been derived from the Bible- and in fact explained the observable data better than Biblical Astronomy did.
Today, Mr. Crabtree claimed the Bible is relevant to ‘theology,
philosophy, and spirituality’ but had to leave Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to wander on their lonesome. He left out Astronomy as well.
From what I have seen of Mr. Crabtree’s arguments, I’m beginning to wonder if the Bible is eventually going to bow out of the discussion of Ethics.
After all, the Bible’s claim to fame is it’s Divine inspiration. But the Divinity, God, the Bible tells us, is perfect and eternal- the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
And the Bible both contradicts itself and shows signs of having developed.
So ends Section III
In the next section, Section IV, Mr. Crabtree talks about viscerally repulsive sexual practices. In detail. For pages and pages and pages.
Tune in Next Week!